Sunday, March 23, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray: MEET HIM AND DIE (1976)

(Italy/West Germany - 1976)

Directed by Franco Prosperi.  Written by Peter Berling, Antonio Cucca, Claudio Fragasso, Alberto Marras. Cast: Ray Lovelock, Martin Balsam, Elke Sommer, Riccardo Cucciolla, Ettore Manni, Heinz Domez, Ernesto Colli, Peter Berling.  (Unrated, 94 mins)

Raro USA has done a fine job bringing cult classic 1970s poliziotteschi and other Eurocult gems to DVD and Blu-ray over the last few years, frequently in comprehensive, near Criterion-level packaging (their first box set of Fernando Di Leo crime films, featuring CALIBER 9, THE ITALIAN CONNECTION, THE BOSS, and RULERS OF THE CITY is absolutely essential).  There have been stumbles along the way:  a pressing error caused the entire run of Massimo Dallamano's THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY (1970) to be recalled, the DVD release of Di Leo's TO BE TWENTY (1978) had a glitch that causes it to skip the last chapter of the film, forcing you to go to the chapter selections to see the end of the movie, and their recent Blu-ray release of Umberto Lenzi's NIGHTMARE CITY (1980) has been knocked for its subpar transfer that doesn't even look as good as the decade-plus-old Anchor Bay DVD.  You can't knock them all out of of the park, but their edition of MEET HIM AND DIE is an unmitigated disaster of shit-the-bed proportions.

The movie itself is fine--it's not the best polizia and it's not where one should start when exploring the subgenre, but it's an entertaining action thriller.  The plot is filled with shootouts, double-crosses, and some nicely-done chase sequences.  Massimo (Ray Lovelock of LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN) is busted for holding up a jewelry store and sent to prison.  It's revealed very early that he's actually an undercover cop, ostensibly posing as a criminal to help orchestrate an escape for incarcerated mob boss Giulianelli (Martin Balsam), who's still overseeing his smuggling operation from the inside and the cops know there's bigger fish to catch.  But Massimo's ultimate goal is to use Giulianelli to get to Perrone (Ettore Manni), who employs the two goons who shot and paralyzed his mother.  From the action to the memorable score by Ubaldo Continiello to--if you watch the English track--the appearances of all the usual suspects in the dubbing world (Balsam--the same year he co-starred in ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN--dubs himself, while Lovelock is voiced by Ted Rusoff, and Elke Sommer turns up about an hour in and is dubbed by Pat Starke), MEET HIM AND DIE is a perfectly serviceable polizia.  There's nothing new here, but fans will find a lot to enjoy.

That is, if they can get past the botched transfer.  Whether it was Raro's doing or them just working with what they had, the DNR (digital noise reduction) here is off-the-charts.  It's as bad as the infamous PREDATOR Blu-ray.  In the long shots, it actually looks sort-of OK, but close-ups of the actors--and director Franco Prosperi (more on him in a bit) uses a lot of close-ups--look like they're coated in a waxy glaze, all lines and definition completely removed as everyone just has a smooth, lifeless appearance, surrounded by garish, overly-bright colors.  All the grain has been removed, with a fake grain sort-of "hovering" over the image (Blue Underground's Blu-ray release of Dario Argento's THE CAT O'NINE TAILS is a horrific example of this), and it's most noticeable whenever Riccardo Cucciolla (as Massimo's boss) is on screen--watch how the designs on his loud sport jackets sort of move.  Sure, there are some moments where it's not awful-looking, but for the most part, this is a horribly ugly transfer and indicative of everything people misunderstand about the concept of high-definition.  This is not how movies should look. This is not how film looks, especially when it's one from the mid-1970s.  It's anti-HD.

As if the transfer and the absurd levels of DNR weren't bad enough, Raro completely embarrasses itself with the accompanying booklet.  There's an essay about the film by polizia expert Mike Malloy, who recently directed the documentary EUROCRIME, which looks at the genre and interviews virtually every still-living actor who appeared in them.  Malloy obviously knows his shit, and his essay, as well as a video segment in the bonus features where he talks about the movie, the actors, and the subgenre itself, are nicely-done (I liked his description of the Italians latching on to what was popular--peplum, spaghetti westerns, crime movies--and "strip-mining" it until everyone was completely exhausted with it).  But there's also a two-page bio of Prosperi and an accompanying filmography, and here lies the problem:  as strange as it seems, there were two Franco Prosperi's working in Italian cinema from the 1960s to the 1980s. The MEET HIM AND DIE Prosperi was a genre and exploitation journeyman who dabbled in a little of everything over his mostly unexceptional career (007 ripoffs in the '60s, horror films in the '70s, and CONAN ripoffs in the '80s).  The two-page bio is for the other Franco Prosperi, best known for co-directing, with Gualtiero Jacopetti, the MONDO CANE documentaries.  The filmography listed after the bio?  That's for the correct (MEET HIM AND DIE) Franco Prosperi.  Now, I don't expect the general public to know (or care) that there are two very different Franco Prosperi's--I didn't know until a few years ago and even the most hardcore Eurotrash disciple has gotten them confused at some point in their travels.  But shouldn't someone at Raro maybe not fallen asleep at the wheel?  Was anyone paying attention?  Was anyone in charge of proofreading or fact-checking?  Did they even watch the video that Malloy shot for them?  Because he specifically mentions the "two different Franco Prosperi's" phenomenon and he specifically says "The director of MEET HIM AND DIE is not the guy who made MONDO CANE." Can you imagine Criterion ever making a gaffe that egregious?  Did anyone not find it odd that the bio of Prosperi made no mention of the film in which it's packaged?  Malloy is the only credited author of the booklet, but it's obvious from his video segment that he didn't write the bio, since he knows it's not the correct Prosperi.  So, between the shitty picture quality and the careless packaging, is there any reason at all to get behind this tire fire of a Blu-ray release?  The relatively obscure MEET HIM AND DIE (which may have had some brief US exposure under the title RISKING) is far from essential, but even the worst polizia deserves better than what it gets here:  a release that does nothing for the film, the genre, either Franco Prosperi, or Raro USA's sinking reputation.  This whole package is riddled with the kind of bush-league fuck-ups that make you hesitant to purchase anything else they release in the future.  Get it together, guys.

1 comment:

  1. Damn! Nice write-up. I've never seen it and always meant to. I guess it will continue to be behind the back burner.